Friday, January 19, 2007

Southern Intrigue

There had been talk of a new kid on the block (if you charitably extend the Richmond block to include Hopewell). The historic Beacon Theatre was set to debut “Wit” next week in what was billed as a theater “fully restored to its original beauty.” But then this week I was forward this info:

Due to uncontrollable circumstances, and in the best interest and protection of our cast, the Board of Directors and staff of Hopewell Preservation, Inc and the Beacon Theatre regretfully have to reschedule the performances of 'Wit'. Original dates were previously scheduled for January 26 through February 4.

Hmmmm. I’m sure there’s a story here, but I certainly have no clue what it is. The show, originally scheduled to run two weekends, has since been rescheduled to one weekend in March. I guess I could call someone and try to get the inside scoop on this but I prefer to fill in the mystery with all sorts of wild speculation. I’ve got to do something to entertain myself.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Thoughts both Idol and envious

I was watching the “American Idol” auditions last night (not on purpose or anything mind you…was folding laundry in the family room and the kids were watching it…what was I supposed to do???) and I swear that I saw Scott Wichmann in a street shot of Seattle. There was a guy shaking out an umbrella and he said something to the camera (can’t remember exactly what…didn’t have the DVR primed…) and between the voice and the look, it was unmistakably him. If it wasn’t, Scottie’s got a twin who lives out in the NorthWest.

If you want to catch up with Scott and his adventures out west (where he caught up with Richmond expats Foster Solomon and Susan Sanford), be sure to check out his blog.

Did anyone see the second edition of “Grease: You’re the one that I want” auditions? I’m afraid that one is probably going to drop right off my radar screen as time goes on. I did see that the ratings for the show dropped from about 23rd on the first night to something in the mid-40s for the second edition. May not bode well…

I’ve enjoyed hearing about people who went to shows in NYC around the holidays. For oneeyedog who came face-to-face with Cynthia Nixon – you lucky dog! I loved her on “Sex and the City” and my esteem for her has only grown as she has continued to do cool shows on Broadway since SATC closed up shop. It was a possibility that I would see “Chorus Line” when I was up there but it turned out to be a girls-only show for our family: my daughters, wife and mom-in-law went and filled me in later. Their opinion (not informed by the critical distain that comes with my job) was that the show was great. My lovely wife was surprised at how much she had forgotten about the show since she first saw it years and years ago.

I really wanted to see “Spring Awakening” but because we were planning on bringing two adolescents with us, I balked on that one. A show about adolescence and sex might have been a little too real both for the kids and us parental types. Now the wife and I are mulling over a possible spring NYC trip that I think will include “Drowsy Chaperone” and “Awakening.”

I saw Kristin Chenowith on David Lettermen last week and she was quite a hoot. It’s remarkable how tiny she is! Next to Dave, she seemed a bit like a dwarf. I appreciate a talk show that recognizes Broadway stars; Dave will always be the post-baby boom generation’s answer to Johnny Carson, if you ask me. Jay who?

“Wicked” was truly amazing. I went in with pretty low expectations for a number of reasons too involved to go into here. But man, I was just blown away. Ana Gasteyer is truly up to the task of Elphaba; she blew the doors off of “Defying Gravity.” The story is genius, fitting together with “The Wizard of Oz” so that the old movie seems like just a small piece of a much more intricate and interesting puzzle. And I don’t know if I can string together an adequate number of adjectives to describe the cleverness and well-craftedness of Stephen Schwartz’s songs. Particularly listening to the cast recording afterwards, it’s clear that he put everything he had into this one. I’m looking forward to showing our little ones “The Wizard of Oz” soon so we’ll have an excuse to go see “Wicked” again! I know that watching the movie will never be the same again!

Did you know that the name Elphaba comes from the initials of "TWofOZ's" author? L. Frank Baum = LFB = El-fa-ba. How's that for a fun fact!

I’ll have to write more about “The Grinch” sometime – not just the production, but some not-so-positive things I think the production says about the unique niche of “opportunistic” theater.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Johnny, Sprites, and the feedback loop

If you are just sitting down to your morning cuppa Joe on Saturday morning and leafing through the blogoshere, you might want to pop on the Disney channel. At 10am this morning, a new children’s show premieres on the Disney channel that stars John Tartaglia from “Avenue Q” and, as described in this New York Times piece, has been enhanced by the involvement of a lot of Broadway vets up to and including no less than Mr. Stephen Schwartz.

I wanted to thank everyone who has commented on the ole blog lately, particularly the responses to my post about impressions and RTP. It was particularly nice to hear from Mr. Knapp who prompted the post. Let me try to respond in kind.

Jacquie, you are way too kind and also a good friend and someone I still owe a Christmas card to (yes, sad to say, we are still sending them out…) Please don’t hesitate to call me ignorant; god knows I am about many many things (as my children will be only TOO glad to point out for you!) What I hope I have done is try to approach theater criticism as a fan. I also went into this gig with no illusions that it was a great way to meet new pals in the theater world so, while I wouldn’t ask for your envy, you also shouldn’t feel too sorry for me either.

Amy, I love when you post a comment and really respect your perspective. I think you hit a nail on the head. As a writer for (and therefore a representative of) Style, I expect the magazine’s treatment of theater gets confused with my opinion of theater. This is completely understandable; I know I consider the T-D’s lack of a full-time staff writer covering the performing/fine arts a comment on their lack of respect for those communities. The situation with Style has some complications and maybe when I get a second I can expound a little on the inner workings of Style as I understand them. They may or may not reflect the reality of the situation. And yes, I do remember your letter, Amy! Too bad it was back in the days before blogs or else I might have had a chance to respond. Responses were discouraged back in those non-interactive days…

John, I thought there was a hint of jest in your comment but I couldn’t be sure. I guess it tweaked the guilt I feel for not seeing any RTP shows in almost two years. Yes, I have GOT to get out more.

Did I review Pageant? I don’t remember doing so but I’ll have to comb through the archives and make sure. Let me assure you that I know very well that those who work in theater do it because they love it not to make scads of cash (well, I did it to meet chicks but that was years ago…) I try to bring that perspective to my reviews as well. But I also try to bring another perspective, which is that of a patron who has paid their good money and is devoting an evening to a show and has a right to expect certain things in response (though I get most of my tickets for free, some schedule juggling or hiring of a babysitter is required even for me. And my mother-in-law doesn’t work cheap…) Just one anecdote to put out there as an example: a couple I know recently walked out of the TheatreVCU production of “Medea” and went out to see a movie because it was their night out, dammit, and they were determined to be entertained even if they had to pay for both a play and a movie to make that happen.

I guess my point is that I certainly respect and admire that people do theater because they love it. But, if they want pats on the back from a critic or adoration from an audience, they have to do more than show up and put in the hours. They also have to be creative, talented and maybe even a bit lucky. It's not an easy job, I know, but love is never easy.

As for the inner workings of Style and why certain things are covered or not, per my response to Amy I’ll do my best to talk about some of that in a future post. Fer sure.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Good thoughts and reality shows

Speaking of Richmond Triangle Players, please send prayers and positive energy to Michael Gooding who is recovering from surgery. He has worked tirelessly to build and sustain RTP over the years, but he’ll be needing to take it easy for the next month. Heal well, Michael.

Apparently, the “Grease” reality show did pretty well in the ratings last weekend (look here for a detailed breakdown), even though some other critics expressed some of the same concerns I had. If the show can make it through the rehearsals OK, I expect it’ll do pretty well during the “live shows.” As glib as Billy Bush is, I think he thinks pretty well on his feet.

And in further intersections between theater and reality shows, that Constantine guy from American Idol will be joining the cast of “Jacques Brel.” I think it’s a bit odd, and maybe a little disturbing, that Broadway has become the landing strip for so many reality show also-rans (e.g., Diana DiGarmo, Frenchy whats-her-name, etc.) I preferred instead that trend we were seeing where Hollywood A-listers were showing up in New York (Julianne Moore, Denzel Washington, etc.)

And one last random aside: the lovely wife and I just saw “Little Children” at the movies last week and I’ll tell you now, if Kate Winslett ever appears on Broadway or on the West End – not unlikely given her husband’s profession – I’d sell a kidney in order to see her. She’s just amazing. I’d also go to extreme measures to see Anna Paquin (whose limited engagements on Broadway have escaped me in the past), though I’d try to keep body parts out of the equation.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Preparing for a thrill

I’m always interested in how impressions get formed. I had the occasion today to speak to John Knapp, the Artistic Director for Richmond Triangle Players. Mr. Knapp has directed many fabulous productions for RTP and is currently preparing “Thrill Me,” which he asserts will be an intriguing and creepy departure for RTP. He mentioned in passing (and to be fair, possibly half in jest; it’s hard to gauge these things over the phone) that he realized that I didn’t have any great love for the stuff RTP did. This took me aback a bit. I tried to assure him that to a great degree I am ignorant of much of what RTP is doing because I haven’t had the chance to see one of their shows in so long.

This prompted me to look back into my archives and the last time I had written a review about an RTP production was an only mildly qualified rave review of “Breathe” in 2005 (which I made a point to mention again in my 2005 wrap-up column) and before that, an unqualified rave of “Santaland Diaries” in 2004. So where-for comes the idea that I’m down on RTP?

I know my former Style partner-in-criticism, Mr. Nickerson, was no RTP fan, judging from his reviews last year. And on the cyperpages of this blog I voiced some reservations in advance of the VCU-student led Christmas show last year and maybe some unkind second-hand comments about some recent RTP productions. Perhaps I’ve done so without enough qualifications (e.g., “the opinions expressed by those whose opinions I pass on are theirs and do not necessarily reflect the opinions – or lack thereof – of this author…”) But rest assured, I look forward to each RTP show I go to with as much fresh-faced eagerness as I approach any other show in town. Truth be told, my attitude about ANY show that I actually attend is usually pretty euphoric given that a night at the theater means a night I’m not overseeing bedtime for 2 cranky tweens and 2 obstinate pre-schoolers.

This reminds me of times in the past when folks at Chamberlayne Actors Theatre thought I was down on them (beware of what you say in line on opening night – you never know who might be listening) and leadership at Swift Creek Mill wouldn’t even talk to me. Those were giddy times indeed! I’m looking forward to 2007 and the sowing of additional mis-impressions…

Monday, January 08, 2007

You’re…NOT the show I’ll be watching Sunday nights

The new reality TV show, “Grease: You’re the One that I Want,” has done something that I never would have thought possible: made me appreciate Paula Abdul. I’m not a huge “American Idol” fan – though I must admit to having caught a mild case of the McPheever last season. Generally, I have found “Idol” judges Paula and Randy to be insipid and repetitious when not downright moronic. Simon is the “bad guy” but most often, he’s just the most honest, occasionally with a brutality that adds entertainment value to the show.

However, as flawed as Simon’s cohorts are, at least they have personalities. “Grease” director Kathleen Marshall may be a great choreographer but she showed the vitality of a stone when judging during the show last night. And “Grease” author, Jim somebody or other, could barely get a coherent word out, let alone say something amusing or even mildly insightful. The tour of the haunts that inspired “Grease” basically insisted of him getting out of cars and pointing. Scintillating television.

Producer David Ian is a solid enough screen presence and he isn’t as brittle as Simon. But he’s also not nearly as entertaining. He also dominates the show in a way that Simon doesn’t dominate “Idol” so I fear he will grow tiresome soon. His “You’re…NOT Sandy” tagline grew tiresome after only one episode.

I have to respect “Grease” for using the real people whose careers and whose money are wrapped up in the Broadway production. If (when) Katharine McPhee’s first album tanks, it’ll barely distract the “Idol” judges. But putting their livelihoods on the line here has perhaps paralyzed the “Grease” team in a ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ kind of way that doesn’t play that well on the small screen.

The strongest aspect of the show so far is the potential Dannys and Sandys. Of course, the judges then didn’t do the show any favors by booting a few of the most interesting prospects (the plus-size dancing cupcake, the pharmaceutical rep who walked in from a convention, and the Danny who was doing it for his dead brother). I’ll probably give the show one more chance (overheating the DVR next weekend thanks to ‘24’s premiere) but, unless I see anything compelling next week, interest in theater alone won’t keep me squandering an hour a week of my life on this show.

What did you all think?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton were on a plane with only one parachute...

Sorry about the title but I figure it's the only way to get some traffic back on this site...

But more to the point, sorry about the extended absence from the blog-o-sphere. For some reason, the holidays -- all phases of them -- just wallopped me harder than usual this year. The early weeks of December were crazy with work in particular, the Tline clan was on the road for 10 of the 12 days of Christmas, and I feel I've been playing catch-up since the New Year. So the blogging has fallen by the wayside.

I also realized that last year I was feeling like I had to post 5 times a week to keep people's interest. And maybe somewhere in my murky subconscious I was thinking that if I wasn't posting that often, I might as well not post at all. There is at least 5-7 interesting things to say about theater every week so by golly, says my subconscious, I should be posting that regularly (my subconscious doesn't actually speak in such outdated idioms but its real vernacular would be unprintable on a family blog).

In the long run, 5 times a week is probably not going to be workable. So I'm setting a new goal of posting at least 3 times a week. The saying in the consultant biz is: Under-promise, over-perform. We'll see if that pans out.

But enough of this navel-gazing. This is a theater blog after all so let's talk about theater. Did anyone see any good shows over the past month? Did anyone (besides me) wander on up to NYC by any chance and catch something wonderful? I saw two shows on Broadway over Christmas: "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "Wicked." It didn't occur to me until more than a week later that the main character in each is green. How's that for an odd coincidence?

Unfortunately, I didn't see anything in Richmond, what with all the shopping, wrapping and packing to do at night. I'm especially disappointed that I missed the Barksdale Holiday Cabaret. I guess I need to carve out a spot in my calendar NOW to see the spring cabaret.

I'm TIVOing "Grease: The One That I Want" right now. In theory, I am both intrigued and horrified by it. When I get the chance, I'll chime in with my opinion of the reality of it. In the meantime, please post your own thoughts.

And please come back and read me again! I won't abandon ship again (until maybe next December...)